Beating obesity the simple way

Local doctor gives insight on how to get/stay trim

by Josh Whitener

In a culture where fast-food restaurants are pervasive and fad diets and appetite suppressors often are the first choice for weight loss, one local doctor claims beating obesity really is just as simple as eating right and exercising.

Dr. Paige Tomcho, a family medicine physician at the Medical Group of Waxhaw and the Union network medical director for Carolinas HealthCare System, recently spoke with South Charlotte Weekly to give readers tips on the best ways to shed those extra pounds – or keep them off before obesity starts to rear its ugly head.

Many statistical studies have shown the U.S. to be the fattest nation in the world, and Tomcho said the Charlotte region seems to be pretty much on par with the rest of the country. “(Obesity) is not unique to,” the Charlotte region, she said. “It’s extremely prevalent … I suspect that it may be a little higher than the national average.”

But why has obesity become such a problem for our society? Tomcho cites several cultural changes that have influenced a rise in obesity: a turn toward fast foods and processed meals as part of one’s daily diet, an increase in standard portion sizes and a dependence on vehicles as the primary – and often the only – means of transportation.

“(We live in a) fast-food society. We want things quick and easy; it’s much easier to stop in at a fast-food restaurant,” Tomcho said. “Portion sizes have increased, we’re no longer walking places. Our physical activity has decreased and yet we’re eating more … processed (foods) and larger portions.”

The main reason people become obese, Tomcho said, is an imbalance between the number of calories a person’s taking in and the number they’re burning through physical activity. People are simply eating too many calories while not staying active enough to burn them off, thus causing the extra energy to accumulate as fat.

Obesity is not just an issue about a person’s appearance; it’s a serious health risk that requires action. Tomcho said obesity is a factor that can cause or exacerbate a number of different medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, muscular/skeletal disorders and breast and colon cancers.

Also, childhood obesity is becoming more and more common, she added, saying that contrary to popular belief, conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol aren’t limited to just adults. “(Where there’s) childhood obesity, you have an increased risk as an adult to have these complications,” Tomcho said.

So how can a person overcome obesity? The first thing Tomcho advises people to do when they want to lose weight is to see their primary care physician. Once the physician uses basic lab work to rule out certain health factors that could be causing the obesity, he or she can help guide the patient toward an exercise and diet plan.

The other two things are common – but often neglected – methods of shedding pounds and/or keeping the weight off: a healthy diet and daily exercise. Here are some of Tomcho’s tips for eating right and staying active:

Nutrition

Eat the rainbow. The key to a healthy diet is eating more fruits and vegetables, with broccoli, blueberries and strawberries being some of the healthiest choices. “If you can eat the colors of the rainbow with your fruits and veggies, then you’re on the right track,” she said. Bananas and potatoes should be consumed more sparingly.

Learn to read labels. Pay attention to portion sizes, calorie counts and fat grams. Avoid hydrogenated oils.

Eat smaller portions. “Small, frequent meals are better than three large meals,” Tomcho said, adding that people shouldn’t skip meals, as that causes bad eating habits. People should have some sort of protein with every meal.

Avoid white grains and foods high in animal fat. Non-fried fish is a good meat choice. It’s also good to eat whole grain pasta and bread. “Not honey wheat,” Tomcho said. “Advertisers are good at tricking. Honey wheat is pure sugar.”

Keep a food diary. Write down what you’ve eaten, calculate the calories and challenge yourself to stay accountable to your diet plan.

Avoid drinking calories. Sugary sodas, sweet tea and even juices contain more calories than they’re worth. “You can lose one to two pounds a week avoiding empty calories through drinks,” Tomcho said. “An orange is better for you than orange juice.” She added that while protein shakes are OK if they don’t have too many calories, they shouldn’t be substituted for actual meals.

Visit the local farmer’s market. “That’s a big plus in increasing foods and vegetables,” Tomcho said.

Physical Activity

Exercise 30 to 90 minutes daily. Those just starting out should begin exercising for about 15 minutes a day and add five minutes each week until they work up to 30 or more minutes. Consecutive exercise is best, although breaking up a routine is better than shortening it.

Move it, move it! Aerobic exercise is the best, as it increases the heart rate and burns calories. “Swimming is a phenomenal exercise for someone’s who’s overweight because it doesn’t put as much pressure on the joints,” Tomcho said.

Fit physical activity into your daily tasks. Park the car a little further from the entrance to the grocery store. Walk around the field while you’re waiting for your child’s softball practice to end. “You have to get creative sometimes,” Tomcho said.

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